Middle East


Are Hamas and Hezbollah Working Together?

Palestinian Prime Minister and senior political leader of Hamas, Ismail Haniya, leads the weekly cabinet meeting in his office of Gaza City. (Photo: Mahmud Hams / AFP-Getty Images)

Regarded by some as terrorists but others as resistance fighters, two organizations in the Middle East, Hamas and Hezbollah, have been prominently featured in the international press in recent weeks. Though distinct from each other, a number of commentators have speculated as to how close the relationship is between the two groups, and whether they are working together in their long-standing dispute with Israel.

A report from Qatar's Al-Jazeera (July 20) indicated that there may be some truth to that allegation: "Last week's operation by Lebanon's Hezbollah, in which two Israeli soldiers were captured, two weeks after Palestine's resistance group and now the ruling Party Hamas had done virtually the same thing, was, according to Mohamed Abu Asen, Gaza accountant, 'an act of solidarity with the Palestinian people, when not a single Arab state had lifted a finger to help us' after two weeks of retaliatory Israeli attacks. The two operations in Palestine and Lebanon have thrown the two resistance groups together in a way that hasn't happened since 1992, when Israel deported hundreds of Hamas fighters to southern Lebanon, where they benefited from Hezbollah's experience in bombmaking and gained military skills that later helped them in confronting the relentless Israeli aggression in Palestine.

"But the vast majority of Gazans believe that Hezbollah could have launched its operation in an effort to relieve Israeli military pressure on the Palestinians battling the Israeli aggressors in Gaza, which has been relatively quiet since last Thursday. Palestinians who believe in this theory feel gratitude towards Hezbollah. They feel relieved to have another ally in the fight against Israel, who receives great and unconditional support from the U.S., whether financially, diplomatically, or militarily."

However, in Israel's Middle East Web Log (July 20) Dan Bar-On of Ben Gurion University noted the differences between the two groups: "I want to draw a clear line differentiating between the Hezbollah and the Hamas. The first is a terrorist organization which acts violently against Israel in spite of international law, thereby also endangering the safety of the Lebanese government and people. It is motivated by the regional interests of Iran and Syria and should be taken care of by the international community, as it endangers not only Israel but also the region as a whole. The Israeli government is right in its efforts to weaken this organization and the only open question is if the current military actions in Lebanon will actually contribute to achieving this goal or will actually strengthen the Hezbollah, at least in the eyes of its Arab neighbors.

"Unlike the Hezbollah, the Hamas government was elected through democratic elections by the Palestinian people, mainly as a reaction of the latter to the previous corrupt government and less because of its policy toward Israel."

Palestine's International Middle East Media Center (July 18) posited that no coordination existed between the two groups: "The spokesman for the Hamas parliamentary bloc in the Palestinian Legislative Council, Dr. Salah Bardawil, denied any organizational relationship between the Palestinian Hamas and Lebanese Hezbollah. In a press statement, Bardawil said 'What unites Hamas, Hezbollah and all factions of resistance, is the general issues, common goals, and the culture of pride, dignity and steadfastness in the face of the Israeli occupation, which persists in killing and destroying in the Gaza Strip and Lebanon.'

"He added that: 'The resistance culture against the Israeli occupation in Palestine and Lebanon and against the American occupation in Iraq, is the only thing that unites all factions of the resistance in the Arab world, the matter does not require any coordination among these factions. Israel has always made claims like these in order to justify its aggression and killings perpetrated against civilians and innocent people.'

"The Al Bardawil statements came after Israel accused the Hamas movement of having a relationship with Hezbollah, after Hamas and Hezbollah both succeeded in capturing Israeli soldiers in the Gaza Strip and southern Lebanon."

In the online encyclopedia, Wikipedia, Hamas is described as: "a Palestinian Sunni Islamist organization that currently forms the democratically elected government of the Palestinian people. It is listed as a terrorist organization by Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, the European Union, Israel, and the United States, and is banned in Jordan, while others consider it to be an independence movement.

"Created in 1987 by Shaikh Ahmed Yassin of the Gaza wing of the Muslim Brotherhood at the beginning of the First Intifada, Hamas is known chiefly for its suicide bombings and other attacks directed against Israeli civilians, as well as military and security forces targets. Hamas' charter (written in 1988 and still in force) calls for the destruction of the State of Israel and its replacement with a Palestinian Islamic state in the area that is now Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip.

Hezbollah is a Lebanese Shia Islamic group and political party, with a military arm and a civilian arm, founded in 1982 to fight the Israeli Defense Forces who occupied southern Lebanon until 2000. Its leader is Hassan Nasrallah. The United States and Israel claim that Hezbollah receives financial and political assistance, as well as weapons and training, from Iran and Syria. Syria says it supports Hezbollah, but denies supplying it with weapons. Along with the Amal movement, Hezbollah is the main political party and military organization representing the Shia community, Lebanon's largest religious bloc."

The opinion that Hamas and Hezbollah are terrorist organizations is not universally shared, especially in Arab countries. Canada's Angus Reid Global Scan (July 14), an international research firm, found that: "Many adults in Jordan believe two organizations should not be regarded as terrorist groups, according to a poll by the Center for Strategic Studies at the University of Jordan. 69.1 percent of respondents believe Hamas is a legitimate resistance organization, and 63.3 percent feel the same way about Hezbollah."

Despite their distinctly different histories and territories, some international commentators view Hamas and Hezbollah as inextricably linked, and blamed them for initiating the on-going violence in Lebanon.

The Australian Jewish News (July 17) reported that: "Labor's Foreign Affairs spokesman Kevin Rudd has defended Israel's right to self-defence, accusing Hamas and Hezbollah of 'violating' Israeli territory, and Lebanon of 'violating' United Nations Security Council resolutions to disarm Hezbollah. In an interview with Sky News, Rudd said: 'When it came to the beginning of this conflict Hamas and Hezbollah, the two terrorist organizations, launched rocket attacks on Israeli territory.'"

A similar view was expressed by Canada's Toronto Sun (July 18): "The violence started when Hamas and Hezbollah attacked Israel which the G8 leaders, including Prime Minister Stephen Harper, emphasized unequivocally in their weekend communiqué about the latest crisis in the region. Simply put, if there had not been unprovoked attacks on Israel by these two terrorist groups, there would have been no response from Israel."

Another Canadian newspaper, the Ottawa Citizen (July 17) published a concurring report: "As news of seven Canadian deaths in Lebanon emerged yesterday, divided world leaders overcame significant differences to unanimously denounce Hezbollah and Hamas terrorists while urging Israel to exercise restraint in its military assault on Lebanon."

Australia's News.com.au (July 14) was also in agreement: "But it is the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers in both places that finally pushed the situation over the brink. It may be that Hamas and Hezbollah thought they could get their own prisoners released by having Israeli hostages. And it may be that, ultimately, they turn out to be right. But it is also certain that they knew such kidnappings would inevitably trigger a massive Israeli response."

Of the kidnappings, Israel's Ha'aretz (July 20) reported: "Mediators in Gaza told Haaretz that no breakthrough has been made in the negotiations, and Hamas is still refusing to negotiate over Shalit's release in isolation from Hezbollah. Nevertheless, this represents the first Palestinian-Egyptian attempt to break up the united Hamas-Hezbollah front that was forged after the abduction of two soldiers in the north last week."

Canada's Embassy (July 19), a foreign policy newsmagazine, pointed out: "The kidnappings were long in gestation with planning apparently designed to capture, not just kill Israeli military members. The fact that they were not betrayed suggests that Hamas/Hezbollah is exercising greater security and/or its operatives are less susceptible to Israeli blandishments. If such operational effectiveness becomes the rule rather than an exception, military operations will become even more violent and deadly. It could be a long, hot summer."

This cautionary interpretation of the situation was also expressed by News.com.au (July 14): "This is the most dangerous security crisis in the Middle East since the Iraq war, and the gravest crisis for Israel in more than 15 years. It represents the utter end of the Middle East peace process."